2007 RWA National Conference (July 12 – 15)

by Anne Marble

July 18, 2007

[fusion_accordion divider_line=”” class=”” id=””][fusion_toggle title=”Part I” open=”no”]I arrived in Dallas on the 10th. On the shared ride on the way to the hotel, I saw my first RWA people without even trying. One woman got on and said that this looked like an RWA group (or something like that). Two authors near me started talking shop, even though they had just met. It’s amazing how easily authors can do that. Sadly, one of the authors was a Triskelion author whose book hadn’t been able to come out before the bankruptcy.

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My roommate is Cathy Clamp, co-author with C.T. Adams of several Tor paranormals (including the popularSazi books). From the first day, I got an author’s-eye view of much of the convention. For example, Cathy brought boxes of book bags – illustrated with one of her covers on one side and the new Susan Kearney book, Kiss Me Deadly, the new Tor Romantic Suspense book, on the other. She also brought Hershey’s kisses, books, etc. Some of the items went to the Goody Room, and others went to the Librarian Goody Room or to booksellers. Cathy goes to a lot of conferences, and belongs to many writing sites, so I met a lot of people through her, ranging from Linnea Sinclair to Diane Whiteside to Melissa Singer, senior editor at Tor. Cathy was grateful that Tor had paid for the book bags. It’s easy to forget that most of the free things in the Goody Room are paid for by the writer, not the publisher.

I also learned a lot about promoting from Cathy as well as from other authors. Paranormal authors don’t just like to meet and read each other’s books, they also like to cross-promote each other’s books. Instead of competing, they work together because they know that someone who likes their book might also like Author B’s book, and vice versa. Cathy, who won a cool engraved acrylic statue from a California chapter of RWA, gave me an ARC for the next Sazi book. Woohoo! Also, fans will be glad to know that Tony from the first and second books in the series will appear in an upcoming book!

I’d heard that much of the action was near the bar and lounge areas of the hotel, and it’s true. But that doesn’t sound right, does it? It’s not that authors are drinking and lounging around. What it means is that authors meet at the bar area, whether to drink or eat pretzels, because it’s a great place to gather. Meetings are incredibly casual in this area, and not just because of the drinks – as most people weren’t drinking anything stronger than a Diet Coke. It’s simply that so many authors are open and willing to talk.

In this area, I met Linnea Sinclair and handed out my very first “I was DIK’d by AAR” pin. I also met Sally MacKenzie, author of The Naked Duke and The Naked Marquis. She admitted that she no longer reads reviews ever since going to Amazon and seeing the reviews for The Naked Marquis. My second pin went to Kathryn Shay, who earned DIK status for Nothing More To Lose.

Not long after, I got to meet Suzanne Brockmann (with Terry Odell, also an author of romantic suspense) at a table in the dining area. Whoops, I mean Suze. She invited me to sit with them. She talked about how hard it is to write short things, such as promotional material. For example, Borders wanted something for their newsletter and their rep told her, “Don’t worry, it only has to be 500 words.” This made her laugh. It’s a challenge to write anything that short, particularly for a novelist. On her site, she’s not restricted by word count, so she can write longer pieces. She gave me a booklet with excerpts from upcoming an book and short stories, plus an article about POV on the other side. When I told her I had listened to Hot Target on audio book, she praised the readers for doing a great job. I admitted that I really wanted the new hardback because I want to know what happens to Jules next. I swear, I am not a fan girl, I just really want that book.

I met Claire Cross, who is also Claire Delacroix. As Deborah Cooke, she will have a paranormal called Kiss of Fire coming out in February. I got a cover flat for this book, and the cover is going to be great. There are a lot of books coming out with hot men in tight T-shirts, hot men with tattoos, kick-ass women with tight T-shirts, you name it. Many authors display their cover flats as a part of their conference badges, and it’s an eye-catching effect. Others wear badges identifying the chapters they belong to. Still others wear badges with great sayings. Kate Douglas, for example, had some terrific badges.

I joined Elizabeth Hoyt and Michelle Rowen at their table, and got to see their cover flats. I was excited to know that Elizabeth Hoyt recognized me from ATBF! (So that’s what it’s like to know you have fans. Squee!) She admitted to some embarrassment when she learned that the name of the hero from The Leopard Prince, Harry Pye, could be taken another way <g>. By the way, under the name as Julia Harper, Elizabeth will have a romantic suspense, Hot, coming out in January 2008. Luckily, she assured me that she is still writing historicals and just turned in her fourth one. (The third – The Serpent Prince – hasn’t come out yet, but Laurie read an ARC and for her it was a DIK.) I think this is all new to her. At the Pocket signing, she signed a “Hot” poster for me, and she had to throw her first try out because she accidentally signed it as “Elizabeth Hoyt.”

I also met (deep breath) Shirley Jump (her upcoming cover is way cool), Nancy Warren, Sylvia Day, Shelley Bradley, Jenna Peterson (who runs “The Passionate Pen”), Margo Maguire, Anne Mallory, Jenna Black, and Jacquie D’Alessandro. And others I will embarrass or annoy because I forgot to type their names in my AlphaSmart. I also saw someone reading Forensics for Dummies, so I said “Oh you must be a romantic suspense author.” Sure enough, she is – Jordan Dane. She has a book coming out in April from HarperCollins, No One Heard Her Scream. She was not the only author to praise the Dummies book, which was written by Douglas P. Lyle, MD, who acts as a consultant on many popular shows.

I introduced myself to Laura Lee Guhrke, who was wearing a really nice pink dress with a matching purse. The woman she was sitting with said “Hi Anne!” It was Adele Ashworth! I talked with them for a couple of minutes and gave them DIK badges. Laura Lee Guhrke joked that she should also get a badge that said “I’ve been torn apart by AAR,” but Adele pointed out that was just the fans who’d done that. That Adele…she’s quick with a retort!

At the orientation for first-timers, and at RWA workshops, you often hear about how you should be careful what you say at the conference because you never know who might be behind you. They’re not kidding. Here’s an example. On Wednesday I went to the hotel cafe for lunch. I asked for a table for one at the same time as another woman, who wasn’t wearing a badge yet. So we decided to sit together. She turned out to be Margaret Terwey, a senior buyer with American Wholesale Book Company. They sell to large chains such as Booksamillion, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club. Imagine the embarrassment if an author had said “Damn that AWBC, they refuse to carry my book, those idiots!” Margaret admitted that she often Googles her name to find out if any authors are upset that she isn’t carrying their books. She was also surprised to see some of the romantic suspense authors (such as Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann) here instead of at the Thrillerfest convention. Maybe that’s because romance writers are so cool.

There was also a Book Fair, which was run by Borders. While there, I saw someone signing Jennifer Greene books and realized “Duh, Anne, this must be Jennifer Greene.” I simply said hello and introduced myself. She is a major fan of AAR and wishes the site had been around even longer. I bought only a few things at the Book Fair because I knew the Literacy Signing was coming up that night. One of my favorite purchases was a paperback from the writing reference section called The Book of Filth – listing words for naughty body parts and activities going back hundreds of years. I’m pretty sure the Book Fair ran out of that title in few days.

What to say about The Literary Signing? First, it was overwhelming. I didn’t end up in any really long authors’ lines, but the checkout line was very long. Also, because I visited so many authors, and have no self control, I wound up picking up way too many signed books from authors ranging from erotica to erotic romance to paranormal to category to historical and single title contemporary. Oh, and romantic suspense, as my first signed book was from Karen Rose. I met everyone from Colleen Gleason to Francis Ray to Jayne Ann Krentz.

I felt badly for those authors who ran out of books or who didn’t have anything recent to sign because their books weren’t coming out yet. (For example, Claudia Dain has a new one coming out soon, and she gave out signed cover illustrations.) I met Jennifer Greene again. Patricia Potter was signing both romantic suspense and historical titles, and she told me that her historical was her last historical (damn it!), so I had to buy that one. I also got books signed by Sophia Johnson (she used the words “Medieval” and “revenge” and I was there), and Rachel Gibson and Marjorie Liu, among others. Many many many others. I love the personalized autographs – Linnea Sinclair had seen me with my AlphaSmart, so she wrote “Love that little laptop at RWA!” Oh, and ahem, I must confess that I bought Opal Carew’s Twin Fantasies because with a title like that, well, phew! And I couldn’t resist Elizabeth Amber’s Aphrodisia title, Nicholas – after all, the hero is a lord and a satyr!

I also managed to talk to authors at the signing. I squealed “I loved your chick in pants book” to Jackie Ivie, and she probably thought “Who is this nutcase?” Actually, no, she was glad to hear it, and she handed be a cover flat for her next book. I met Anna Campbell (author of the controversial Claiming the Courtesan). I hadn’t expected to see her there as she comes all the way from Australia, and she totally charmed me. Even though I didn’t buy the book (as I already owned it), she gave me a candy with a little koala bear on it. Talking with Robyn Carr was great because I have been a fan of hers for a while. She’d heard that her books were being talked about on the boards, and she was grateful for the positive reviews from AAR. I told her I’d bought and loved her bookWriting Popular Fiction (years ago), and then I mentioned that I’d loved one of her Silhouettes years ago. I was surprised when she told me it was her only Silhouette. Dang, they should have bought more from her. After all, it was good enough for me to remember after this long!

After the signing, I attended the meeting for first-timers. One of the major points made was to remind writers to be careful about saying anything negative because you never know who’s listening, and who might be offended. They also pointed out that with the rise of blogging, writers have to be careful what they say at conferences because it might get picked up and end up all over the Internet. But the highlight was when a woman in the audience got up and introduced herself as the founder of RWA, Vivian Stephens. Now, I don’t belong to RWA (well I do now…because I joined during the conference), so I wasn’t familiar with the name – but I should have been. Ms. Stephens was one of the pioneering editors, and she used to edit romances for Harlequin, Candlelight (I still miss Candlelight Ecstasy!), and others. The RWA officials running the meeting were ecstatic to see her there. At the first-timers orientation, Ms. Stephens explained that she had founded RWA not for the published writers, but for us, the unpublished ones. She reminisced about authors who used to call or write to her and ask about margins or whether or not the hero could kiss the heroine. As it turned out later, this was the first RWA conference she had attended in years. RWA now has an award named after Vivian Stephens, the Vivian Stephens Industry Award. (The recipient was Linda Morrow, vice president and editorial director of Ballantine.) I later learned more about Ms. Stephens from a Romancing the Blog entry by Monica Jackson, and it was verrry interesting.[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Part II” open=”no”]This has nothing to do with anything but I must mention it because it’s cute. The Quality Inn has a nice free continental breakfast, including do-it-yourself waffles with a waffle maker that makes waffles in the shape of Texas. I am not making this up. It was adorable, though. Cathy became the pro at using this and often gave other quests instructions on how to use it. One woman said she thought that the idea of a Texas waffle was too much, but Cathy is from Texas, so she thought it was great.

I can’t even begin to mention all the authors I met, in part because I sometimes didn’t realize to whom I was talking. (That’s a real trouble at the parties, as most authors ditch the name tags.) I apologize to authors I forgot to mention. I apologize to authors I accidentally hit with my overloaded RWA bag, my pink Purse of Doom, or my AlphaSmart case. Anyway, I met Lorraine Heath, Kayla Perrin (who has some great covers, Roxanne St. Clair (who was holding her RITA at the time!), Hope Tarr, Harlequin author Susan Gable, Barbara Samuel, Caridad Pineiro… Many authors started talking to me because they saw me typing on my AlphaSmart Dana, which is a sort of combination between a Palm and a laptop only lighter, and with better battery life than a laptop. I even saw another person taking notes at a workshop on an AlphaSmart Neo, a model that is even more popular with writers because its batteries last months. I should ask the makers of the Dana for free software or something because I gave them a lot of publicity.

Several times I saw but did not get to meet RWA past president Leigh Greenwood, who is much taller than I expected. But duh, Anne, he’s a man. Or should I call him Harold Lowry? Argh, I don’t know, and I should have gotten a book signed by him. I saw Harlequin Presents writer Sandra Marton in the Goody Room and wanted to scream “Oh my God, I loved your Presents” but suddenly my brain left the building, and I couldn’t remember which ones I’d read of hers. Of course it completely slipped my mind that she was one of the HP authors I have worshipped. She was so different from the HP writers of the time (whom I also worshipped), and I’m sure her book Lovescenes would hold up today. I also met editors and agents and booksellers. From across an aisle during one of the publisher spotlights, I recognized agent Richard Curtis. He is so well known that he is one of the first agents whose name I learned to recognize. I didn’t introduce myself because 1) I didn’t want to interrupt the talk and 2) I didn’t want him to run away screaming as agents aren’t supposed to have fangirls.

Another part I loved was the Keynote Speech by Lisa Kleypas. The speech was so good that I almost didn’t finish my cheesecake, and when you consider that was the first cheesecake I’d eaten in probably a year, that tells you something. Lisa reminded unpublished authors that even if you have not been published yet, you’re still “in your career.” This is a great point, especially at a place where authors are often “labeled” by “Pro” badges (which means they have completed one or more novels and are collecting rejection slips) and “PAN” badges (which means they have been published by an eligible publisher). Lisa joked about how she thought her first book would have a cover showing a hero in a cape but no shirt embracing a heroine in an embrace that resembled breastfeeding…in the show. Obviously she’d seen a few romance covers. <g> She had lots of great anecdotes, like the time an elderly woman came up to her at a signing and said she wanted to make sure that the book didn’t have too much sex. When Lisa told this woman that her books were even worse than Judith McNaught’s, she woman said “I’ll take that one and that one.” Lisa admitted to being annoyed with an interview that ended with the male interviewer saying “Let’s hope that one day this young lady will write a real novel.”

Like many of the best romance novels, Kleypas’ humor was mingled with tears. She had a hard time finding love and realized it was because she was idiosyncratic. She had a cat named Vern who had his own wardrobe. But finally, she did meet her hero, Greg. They married and had the perfect life – a big house and two kids and a cat with his own wardrobe. Then, tragically, in 1998, a flash flood took away the house, and they were unable to save Vern. Lisa and her family ended up having to stay in a motel room. Lisa and her mother went to the Wal-Mart to get necessities. When they met at the cashier, they realized that each of them had one romance novel in the cart. That moment helped her realize the importance of romance novels in women’s lives. At a time like that, she didn’t need a literary novel to tell her that love was doomed and hope was a dream, she needed something that gave her hope. She needed a break. The book she bought was Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Petals on the River, and she called Kathleen Woodiwiss “a writer to whom you could trust your heart.”

Lisa also said that what Woodiwiss said first is that women are important. That novels can end with the woman whole, safe, loved, and in control of her choices. Because to say otherwise is to give up hope. She pointed out that romance novels show the kind of relationships we can have, which is refreshing in a day when so many people argue that romance novels give women the “wrong” ideas. She pointed out that a conservative woman once said that we shouldn’t read romance novels, and instead, we should find the heroes in our husband. But Lisa doesn’t understand this “either/or” situation, and neither do I. She compared the negative criticism that romance gets to the tar balls that you can get from walking on beaches in South Texas. She said we all know writers who make it look easy, whose books hit the best-seller lists. Yet we have to remember that these authors are standing on the same beach. Lisa said the best way to cope with problems such as criticism or ugly covers is to tell yourself that you’re an armadillo. She then got the crowd chanting “Be an armadillo!” One of the best lines might be “It’s not sophisticated or important to be cynical. It’s easy to be cynical.” Lisa closed by reminding romance authors that in our work, we are describing the world that women are entitled to. (I think she has something here. After I got home and showed her my copy of Lisa’s hardback Sugar Daddy, my mother decided she was entitled to borrow it and bring it to the beach. <g>)

The other big speech was Lisa Jackson’s luncheon speech on Saturday. Lisa charmed us from the start. First she admitted that when RWA asked her to speak, she thought, “They must have the wrong person.” She even confessed that she isn’t used to wearing skirts, and while it was covering her body now, it wasn’t earlier. So Saturday was your day to see more of a best-selling author than you should have. Lisa showed off the PJs and hoodie – named “Old Dog” she loves to write in. Her other writing tool is a cup of coffee. More seriously, she talked about success versus luck. People often tell her she’s lucky, and yet she confesses that her career tanked in 1996, at a time when life itself was hard enough what with surgery and other crises. There are many times when her career didn’t do so well, when she went through a change of editors or when her agent died. She has success now, but first, she had to decide who she wanted to be. And she wanted to be Lisa Jackson. She looked at publishing and decided she loved romantic suspense and didn’t like the choices at the times. There were hard thrillers (too gory and not romantic) or romantic suspense that pussyfooted around or romance with a bit of suspense tacked on. So she wrote what she wanted, and voila, she is now “lucky” enough to be a best-selling author. She closed by revealing her other writing tool, Hot Tamales candy, confessing“When I’m writing, I work my ass on.” A number of lucky attendees won a box of Hot Tamales, and everyone got a copy of Lisa Jackson’s Almost Midnight plus a copy of a book by Nancy Bush, her sister.

And the Chat with Nora was as cool as I had expected. It started with some good-natured ribbing that set the tone. The moderator was Patricia Gaffney, who mentioned that Wikipedia says other romance writers refer to Nora as “The Nora.” She quipped, “It’s not true. Other romance authors refer to her as Nora F. Roberts.” Nora has great answers for everyone. When someone asked “How do you keep your prose fresh?” she responded “Honey, I’m just that good.” After the laughter died down, she explained that you have to treat each book as if it was your first. I also had insight into the fact that not every writer has the same process. Many many (many) aspiring writers are told that they must know what the plot is going to be ahead of time, that they must write outlines, that they must not let characters dictate the plot. Tell that to Nora and she’ll just laugh and laugh… She has never read a how to book on writing and won’t because they’re only going to tell her she’s doing it wrong, and then she gets her back up and says “I’ll show you.” If anyone who says that their way is the way you have to do it, you should “Tell them to f_ck off.” Before starting, Nora only thinks a little bit about the back story and plot before going into the first draft, and then she “vomits out” that draft and revises it, usually resulting in a third draft that she can send to the publisher. The only downtime was when she left one publisher, which was wrenching, but she was able to get through it, and when Janet Dailey plagiarized her (for a refresher on this story, take our links from our main Nora Roberts page). That threw her off for about a month, but then she “stopped whining and got over it.” And yes, she works in her PJs, too. She admitted that when she first became a writer, if the UPS guy saw her in her PJs, she faked a cough and pretended she had a cold, but she doesn’t bother to do that anymore. She’s a writer, why shouldn’t she write in her PJs? While she is recognized at RWA, she isn’t often recognized in public, as most people associate authors with words, not faces. There was one time when a woman came to one of her signings and then took a cab and followed her up her drive, but left when she came out. That was about it for stalkers.

At the end of one workshop, I missed my chance for free books. Of all things, the fire alarm went off, and they told us to all leave the room and go outside. (I barely heard it at first! Books will do that to me.) As we went, someone called out, “Save the books!” I held the door open for a while and realized this was a great way to see the people at RWA (I saw April Kihlstrom go by). During the alarm, I heard they’d had a fire alarm the night before. Not all parts of the hotel got the alarm, so people in the bar were treated to the sight of romance writers in PJs (and carrying small children) filing outside from the second floor. I think I heard the “fire alarm voice” at least once more, but luckily, it didn’t affect any section I was in. Thank God it didn’t go off during the RITAs or during any of the big speeches because that would have been chaos.

Who else did I meet, even when I wasn’t holding the door? I saw Kristina Cook in line at the coffee shop. She said “Oh you’re the ATBF lady. I’ll bet you get a lot of that.” I said “Not enough. Just kidding.” :) I praised her new cover, which she was wearing as part of her badge. She liked it, too, because her earlier books (Undressed, etc.) were cartoon covers that didn’t look anything like historicals. The new one doesn’t really look historical either, she thinks, but it looks much more appropriate.

At the Pocket/Warner spotlight, I met Liza Palmer and got a signed copy of Conversations with the Fat Girl. I told her I needed a copy of that book because it was my life, and she said “It’s every woman’s life.” Liza is really gratefully to Robin, my ATBF colleague, for the mention her book got in the ATBF on overweight heroines. I also met Eve Silver, who I will always remember as the author I introduced myself to in the bathroom (yes, I know you’re not supposed to do that). She recognized me from AARList (as the one who always asks the questions). At the signing, I got a signed cover flat as she has no books yet. Jennifer St. Giles ran out of books, but I was still able to introduce myself to her.

I briefly met Sherrilyn Kenyon after her workshop on pacing. She was talking to one of her fans, who asked if Artemis was on the boat when it blew up. At first, Sherrilyn said “Maybe” but then took pity and said “No.” I gave a DIK badge to Sherrilyn, and she thanked me warmly and profusely. And I have to appreciate any author who lets a fan in on secrets like that!

And while book signings are one way to meet cool people, parties are another. I shared a cab with Linnea Sinclair to the Bantam party. (Can I say that the cabs are too expensive in Dallas? Thanks, saying that felt better.) That’s where I met up with AAR’s Sandy Coleman. She recognized me right away, probably because I was wearing two name badges by then. That’s where we met Sherry Thomas, whose upcoming historical (Private Arrangements) was featured during the Bantam Dell Publisher Spotlight. Sherry was glad to hear her publisher featured the book. Sandy and Sherry bonded over Susan Johnson and wondered just what had happened to this beloved author’s latest books. Sherry said that two authors made her become a writer: Susan Johnson, for showing her what it could be like, and an unnamed author she used to love for writing a wallbanger that made her say “I can do this!”

We got an incredible ride back to the Hyatt in a cushy courtesy car with a wonderful driver who told us all about the buildings we were passing, even which building used to be in the opening credits of Dallas (Reunion Tower!) and what some of the new buildings were. Back at the Hyatt, we went to the Berkley party. There, I finally got to meet Jo Beverley, which was great. However, there is also sad news to report from this party. Sandy talked to Steven Axelrod of The Axelrod Agency, Judith Ivory’s agent, and asked him about her next book. He reported that she hasn’t turned in the book that was due and hasn’t heard from her since. Sandy is sure that this is it and that we won’t be getting any more Judith Ivory books, which is a damned shame and a loss for historical romance.

At this party, I met Lisa Kleypas and got a hug from her. Lisa talked about how so many people at the conference had been touched by her speech. It also turns out that Lisa is a huge J. R. Ward fan, and it was fun to see them talk. Lisa met her at a previous conference and has since read the books and been won over. Sandy is also excited about the way J. R. Ward’s latest book changed to reflect what the fans have said about the Lessers, etc. She was especially psyched when J. R. Ward agreed that the latest book was Butch and V.’s book.

We also met Nora Roberts at this party. Sandy was wearing Nora Roberts’ shoes (Sandy had attended Nora’s clothing exchange party some months ago), and she showed them to Nora. Nora told us we should crash the Harlequin party. And so we did! We were able to share a limo ride, and I’m pretty sure this was my first ever limo ride (unless I rode as an embryo and don’t remember that). The decor at the party was terrific and followed the Harlequin theme – the Harlequin logo projected on the wall, pillars with glowing Harlequin logos and fake flames, and disco lights. Oh, and a great DJ. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Nora Roberts dancing to “Get Down On It” – barefoot. The songs that were the biggest hits were probably “I Will Survive” and the conga line – the biggest conga line I have ever seen. We saw Karen Rose, and I saw Luna author Robin Owens again (she was at the Berkley party, too). And we danced. A lot. When I started this party circuit, I was upset that I’d forgotten to put on my nicer shoes, but by the time I started dancing, I was glad I wasn’t wearing them as I would probably have slipped and fallen while wearing them.

We shared another limo back. Sandy said this was a great party to crash, and the woman we rode back with said “Oh, you crashed the party?” It turned out that she worked for Harlequin, but she didn’t mind. After all, Nora told us to crash! We topped the evening with drinks in the revolving bar at the top of Reunion Tower. When we saw the red building again, we realized it was time to go sleep. I didn’t make it back to my room until 12:40, and I fell asleep in my clothes. Woohoo, party hardy!

Of course, the big event Saturday was the awards ceremony, where the Golden Hearts and RITAs are handed out. This was my first, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Other people thought it wasn’t as interesting as others they’d attended, but some people thought it was better because it was shorter. Instead of skits, as they usually have, they had a narrator who sounded like that guy who narrates all those movie trailers (in fact, that’s how they described him). This was a cute idea, except that during the Golden Hearts segment, one author was introduced by the wrong name. Whoops. The chairs were quite uncomfortable, the same chairs we had used during the workshops. (Those chairs were fine for a one-hour workshop, not so much for an awards ceremony where everybody was wearing fancy clothing and nice shoes.) I was quite far back and quite surprised to see former RWA president Leigh Greenwood sitting only two rows in front of me. (That had to be him as there aren’t too many tall, bearded men at the awards ceremony.) Surely past presidents should get reserved seating at the ceremony?

Speaking of past presidents…one cute part of the ceremony consisted of “ads” about famous romance writers, such as Nora, Linda Lael Miller, and Anne Stuart (hers used a manga style, how cool!). It was fun guessing which writer the ad was about as the names were only revealed at the end. One of the ads was about past RWA president Robin Lee Hatcher, who now writes inspirational fiction. I’m sure that surprised people who remembered the controversy from some years back when she disowned her romance novels in a newspaper interview. Still, the ads were cute, and I wish there had been more of them. One of the speakers joked that relatives were texting her to find out who was winning, and that’s when we realized the RWA site must have gone down.

After the awards ceremony came the dessert reception. I behaved well and didn’t succumb to the temptation, but that’s only because the line was really really long. So long I thought maybe they were handing out copies of the upcoming Harry Potter book along with dessert. I had run out of film long ago, because I couldn’t find the spare rolls, but Cathy Clamp gave me a disposable camera, so I got to take pictures again. I got to meet Lisa Kleypas, as well as Greg, the husband she mentioned in her keynote address. I took pictures of authors, people I hoped were authors, and people holding RITAs. I also snapped a couple of shots of the elevator because it looked so cool, even if it made my stomach sink just looking at it. I probably met even more famous authors, but my brain was operating on one WeightWatchers bare by this point, and no one wore name tags, so I apologize to anyone I forgot to mention, or forgot to shout “Squeee” to. Because sometimes I am an idiot.

Sandy went back to her hotel room early, clearly exhausted. Because I was tired and had little to eat since the luncheon, I returned to my hotel room earlier than I had planned. I had the fastest cab driver ever, and that guy got a nice tip. When I got to my room, I was too tired to worry about little things like PJs, so all I could manage was to move a bag. (I later realized I had accidentally broken the luggage tag on a bag I was borrowing from my mother. Whoops.) and fall asleep with my clothes on again.

The next day had a couple of embarrassing incidents. After Cathy and I woke up, we heard a car alarm going of. We both commented about how those blasted things are so annoying because nobody looks outside to check if the car is being broken into. After all, I used to live in an apartment with a woman whose car alarm was so sensitive it went off when people merely walked by her shiny red pickup. The car alarm stopped, so we figured everything was OK. Maybe twenty minutes later, the front desk called us to ask if we had seen the attempted break-in near our window. Boy were our faces red.

But the most embarrassing moment may be the time Anne nearly created an Incident at DFW airport. You see, these days, when you go through security, you have to go take off your shoes, take off your watch, take the laptop out of its container, put this thing in that box and that thing in this box… After I got through, I grabbed my stuff and rushed over to a seat to put on my shoes. Then I started to put my license back into my wallet. Then I realized I couldn’t do that because… I. Had. No. Purse. I screeched and walked back to security, just in time to see security people looking through my pink Purse of Doom. (They probably wondered why it was so freaking heavy. So did the authors I accidentally hit with it.) I called out “That’s my purse!” And being no fools, they asked, “What’s your name?” Luckily, I remembered that, and I shouted “Anne Marble!” And I got my pink Purse of Doom back. It’s a good thing I wasn’t an author who wrote under a pen name and had been attending RWA under a pen name for several days, because I might have shouted “Lavinia La Harde” or something like that instead. Then I would have had to say “No, no, that’s not right!” That would have been even more embarrassing![/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Part III” open=”no”]

Besides meeting people, I went to RWA for workshops. The first workshop I attended was Robin Owens’ workshop, “Kill Your Negative Inner Critic! Experience the Joy of Writing!” This involved exercises such as writing down affirmations multiple times so that you could hear and identify the negative voices that can keep you from writing. We also learned to use “free writing” exercises to get ourselves through blocks. Robin encouraged writing in longhand to get the most out of the free writing exercise, and it really does work. I realized quickly that I could use these exercises when trying to write ATBF segments that would giving me trouble, let alone when working on my novel.

I attended “‘Because I Said So’ Is Not Good Enough: the Importance of World Building in All Genres of Romance”, and not just because my roommate Cathy Clamp was one of the panelists. This workshop didn’t just center on the paranormal romance but pointed out errors in logic in romantic suspense, contemps, and others as well. One point they made was that any book set in the past, present, or future has elements of world building, and I wondered if that was what was wrong with so many of the books that drove me batty. A historical romance where the hero’s mother accepts the fact that he’s going to marry an actress who was the illegitimate daughter of a chimney sweep probably has world building issues. The best line might be from Cathy Clamp: “If you have a Too Stupid to Live character… make sure they don’t.” Another panel that touched upon world building was “Beyond Buffy and Bram Stoker: Paranormal Worlds and the Monsters Therein.” The panelists encouraged authors to go beyond just writing about a vampire or werewolf and decide why those particular creatures appeal to you. They provided spreadsheets authors could use to walk themselves through the traits and weaknesses of the creatures they wanted to write about.

Early on, I attended “She Said/She Said: Communication Skills That Can Make or Break Your Career,” presented by Anna DeStefano and her agent. They used skits to act out embarrassing incidents that could happen at RWA, such as saying something bad about an “evil editor,” only to realize that “Evil Editor” is standing right behind you. It was pointed out that gossip can be unprofessional and is often used to make yourself feel more powerful during uncomfortable situations. They also taught ways to get through potentially embarrassing situations, many of which were based on crisis management techniques. One thing they warned against was saying anything negative about other authors, but on the other hand, I also get frustrated with the “Don’t say anything if you can’t say anything nice” attitude often seen in the romance world. It’s one thing for authors to be diplomatic and avoid saying anything negative, and I can understand why they feel that way. But I’m not crazy at all about the way this attitude has pervaded the hearts of many readers as well, because the discussions just aren’t as fun if readers can’t feel free to say negative things when needed.

On the other hand, they do have a point. You never know who’s sitting next to you. At one workshop, someone asked me what I wrote, and when I told her, I thought she’d think I was weird. Instead, she gave me her card. It turned out she was an editor for an e-book publisher. In the lounge area, the same rules apply. That person sitting next to you could be an editor, an agent, an aspiring writer, an established writer, or someone about to hit the big time. I started speaking with one author in the bar/lounge area, and it turned out she had gorgeous cover flats to show off. Her name is Jeaniene Frost, and the book is a paranormal romance calledHalfway to the Grave, which will be published by Avon in November. Take your preconceptions of Avon covers and chuck them out the door for this one. She confessed that her book might have too much romance for the urban fantasy crowd and might have too much urban fantasy for the romance crowd. In other words, it sure to be a hit with AAR’s readers. I sat at the table with her and met Rachel Vincent (author of Stray, which also had a cool cover), and Rosemary Clement-Moore (author of Prom Dates from Hell), among others.

Speaking of cover flats, I’d like to take this moment to praise authors for their innovation in giveaways for the Goody Room. In this hot and humid (for Dallas) weather, Zebra author Laura Drewry gained many many fans by giving away fans in the shape of a cowboy hat. Romantic suspense authors Karen Rose and Brenda Novak gave away little transparent coffins stuffed with candies. Authors gave away recipes, excerpts, chocolates, candies, tons of bookmarks, and even jar openers. Sandra Schwab gave away a CD of a reading from her latest book, and at the Literacy Signing, Caridad Pineiro gave away packets with “Chicas Rule” candles, Lifesavers, and pens, as well as a bookmark and postcard. Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense author Debby Giusti gave away copies of the Writer’s Prayer, whereas Harlequin NEXT author Stevi Mittman gave out “Please Do Not Disturb” door hangers. Showing that I am a woman of many flavors, I picked up bookmarks from inspirational romance writers as well as excerpts and cover flats from erotic romance and erotica authors. And of course, I snagged any Manlove Romance doohickey I could find. And, of course, there were free books. I didn’t take too many of those but made up for it by buying too many books at the Literacy Signing. (Shh, don’t tell.) I think the prize for Coolest Attitude about Your Book goes to Susan Crosby, who was signing one of her Silhouette Desires at the Literacy Signing. I’d heard her praises from on high. (Actually, I think I heard them from Susan Gable.) When I went up to Susan Crosby’s table, she warned me that the book she was signing wasn’t one of her best. I bought it anyway. Besides, I already have one of her other books, so I’m sure to like at least one of them.

I attended a lot of workshops on publishing because I wanted to know what the editors were really saying, not what people claim they are saying. What are they saying about guidelines, about paranormals versus historicals, about contemps? I picked up a lot. Even if some of it was contradictory. The first publishing workshop I attended was “Publishing Myths – Why Patience Counts,” which was run by Kate Duffy, editorial director of Kensington (and the first editor-in-chief of Silhouette). She was a hoot, although I imagine she might be intimidating to some writers.

Duffy told the audience not to believe what people not from the New York publishing industry told them about what was or wasn’t selling. “It’s baloney. How would they know?” She also said that if she heard historicals aren’t selling one more time, she was going to do somebody bodily harm. For example, she pointed out that the Zebra Debut line started out with mostly paranormals, but now, they’re publishing primarily historicals, and they are selling. One point she brought up was that Western historicals weren’t selling because nobody was writing them (because everyone was telling them they weren’t selling), so the publishers couldn’t find them.

On the impact of e-publishing, Dhe said that her perception made a huge turnaround. Five years ago, authors who were e-pubbed were looked at as one step above vanity published authors. Now, of course, Kensington and other publishers are buying authors who were formerly e-published, and many of those authors are becoming best-sellers. She recently bought three books that were previously electronically published, and also bought the entire backlist (seven books) of one e-pubbed author. On guidelines, she repeatedly had to stress that they don’t have any, other than “Send us your best work.” So what’s not selling? Contemporaries, because they don’t know how to package them. (Particularly since the cartoon covers “imploded.”) She said that all the magic authors were putting into contemporaries has been put into the paranormals, and she wants the “fur and fangs” intensity to get back into contemps.

I later saw Duffy speak again at the Kensington Spotlight, along with John Scognamiglio, editor-in-chief, and Audrey LeFehr, editorial director. Fall of this year will see the first revamped Brava mass market titles, starting with Fangs for the Memories. Again, they mentioned that they are having less success with contemps, but they are doing well with romantic suspense, woman’s fiction, erotic romance, and the Aphrodisia line. In the case of Brava, they pointed out that they started out with anthologies because it was hard to acquire that many erotic romances at first, but once they were established, they had more authors to turn to. It turns out the line was developed because in a bookstore, an author asked Duffy “Which books have the really great sex?” So Brava was born. Oh, and they are looking for urban fantasy.

During this session the Kensington big-wigs mentioned the packaging of their books. They showed many cover flats and spoke of how authors use these to promote their books. One of the upcoming authors they mentioned was Eve Silver, who they credit as one of the three recent authors who reinvented the Gothic romance (the others are Jennifer St. Giles and Lydia Joyce). Speaking of covers, I noticed that many of the Kensington books have what some people call “body parts” covers – those covers where you see a bare-chested hero but don’t see his face, or you see the face and bare chest but that’s all. These are the types of covers readers often complain about, but at the same time, they are obviously what sells, or Kensington wouldn’t keep using them. It may be a sign of the clash between what on-line readers want and what the typical reader wants.

Interestingly, at the Bantam Dell Spotlight, Bantam Dell editor Shaunna Summers said that RWA is a great organization, but she sometimes worries that writers get distracted by hearing that information along the lines of “you gotta have this”, “you can’t have that”, and “you have to have conflict here.” She worries that all this advice might water things down and make things read like everything else, and like all other editors there, she wants authors with a unique voice. The Bantam Dell spotlight was also cool because of the presentation (once they got the visuals working) as we got to see covers of upcoming books. Shaunna highlighted upcoming books by many authors, including Tami Hoag, Kay Hooper, Madeline Hunter, Karen Marie Moning, and Tara Janzen. Also coming up is a new Mary Balogh, Somebody Perfect, which Mary believes is the best cover she’s ever had.

For people who think Bantam Dell only cares about established authors, one of the highlights was Sherry Thomas’ Private Arrangements, due out in March 2008. Because this is a historical romance that “reminds you why you love historical romance,” they featured it at the top of their list. They also highlighted their paranormal authors, from Kelley Armstrong to Lara Adrian. However, people who are sick of paranormals will be happy to know that the editor warned “Honestly, I am so sick of paranormal I can no longer stand it.” While they love the paranormals they have, the ones coming in over the transom aren’t thrilling them so much. At this time, most of the submissions are paranormals, and they are really beginning to sound alike. That won’t stop them from buying a paranormal that really stands out, such as Jenna Black’s upcoming The Devil Inside. It’s not that the sales are slowing down, however, because the paranormal authors they have are doing well, but there are only so many slots they can fill. They are also realllly looking for straight contemporary romance because while they don’t see it in the bookstores anymore, they believe that as an all-purpose romance publisher, they need some. They also announced that in 2008, they are starting a new imprint, A Bantam Discovery. The books will be published simultaneously in both mass market and trade paperback, allowing them to market the same book to more than one type of audience, which is a really cool idea that I wish more publishers would try. Books in this line will be promoted well, and on top of that, the mass market titles will be specially priced at $5.99!

I also attended the Pocket Books spotlight. That day, at RWA, they announced a special event, First Chapters Romance Writing Competition, held through Gather.com. They’ve already held a First Chapters competition, but this one will be for romance novels only. This is an exciting change for authors who want to publish with them because they don’t accept manuscripts or query letters from authors without an agent. The upcoming books they are excited about include Jennifer St. Giles’ Lure of the Wolf (coming out in a couple of weeks), the Moon Fever paranormal anthology, One Last Breath (a romantic suspense novel by debut author Laura Griffin), the next Susan Mallery book, and new author Melissa Mayhew’s Three Nights with a Highlander. They are also working on 50 Cents’ urban fiction imprint, and they are excited about MTV’s YA fiction imprint. The main thing they want from new authors is a distinctive voice and a great story. They also put in a good word for chick lit. While people have been declaring that chick lit is dead for years now, they think it’s evolving. It’s no longer about shoes and shopping. For newcomers, the fastest sales are in paranormals, but historical is doing okay, too. And while paranormals are doing well, they don’t want vampires. They want variety. But even that varies by editor as one of the editors on the panel loves vampires.

I attended the Ellora’s Cave spotlight as well. Besides mentioning EC and Cerridwen Press, they highlighted Lotus Circle, which sells New Age products and books. They had a Lotus Circle giveaway right near the start of the spotlight. Then they got into the nitty gritty. They talked about what’s hot and what’s not. BDSM is hot, M/F/M is hot, and now, M/M/F is hot. Male/male does well now, although not as well as M/F/M, and they think that male/male will cool around after about a year and a half. However, female/female is not hot at all – in fact, they “can’t give them away” (Laurie may have been on to something when she spoke of this in the last ATBF.) Vampire, werewolves, and shapeshifters are hot, but other paranormal creatures such as characters based on Christian, Greek, and Roman traditions are rising in popularity.

Later in the week I attended a spotlight on Samhain, and they said that “sex sells”, but paranormal does well even if it’s not erotic. Especially popular are the “unique” paranormals, such as angels and demons. In erotic romance, multiple partner stories and male/male are on the rise. I also attended the LooseID Spotlight, which was a lot of fun with lots of unintentional naughty puns flying around. While EC said that BDSM is hot, at LooseID, BD is hot, but S&M is not as hot. Male/male is hot, male/male/female is hot, and as for male/female, well, it depends. Demons are on the rise, werewolves aren’t as hot, and vampires are overdone. When a brave staff member of AAR (ahem) asked whether they thought male/male would die out in about a year and a half, they answered with a resounding No, not unless the three of them are struck by lightning. and said they think it has yet to peak. (See what I said about the puns?) In fact, they don’t see a top in sight. (What was that about puns?)

I also attended a workshop on “Swimming Against the Stream: Alternative Genres in Erotic Romance” because I’m curious about the trends. The panelists agreed with much of what I’d heard already – BDSM sells well, menage sells well, male/male sells well, and female/female doesn’t sell well at all. Like all the editors I’d heard, they urged authors to do their research before writing any alternative erotica. In other words, don’t take a romantic suspense story you couldn’t sell and add spanking and think it will sell. Don’t take a vampire story you couldn’t sell and change the heroine Mina to a guy named Mick because that just won’t cut it. And avoid male/male/male because the pronouns drive the editors batty. In fact, Mary Altman of Ellora’s Cave admits that she draws diagrams to keep the sex scenes straight (uhm, I mean correct) when she’s editing the menage books. The main emphasis, however, was that the books had to be good, and that the sex had to pertain to the plot and characters. Otherwise, no one will care about the sex.

Another session I attended was “Publishing Behind the Scenes: What Editors Do That You Don’t Know About,” and that included editors Anna Genoese (formerly of Tor), Heather Osborn (formerly with Ellora’s Cave, now with Tor), Monique Patterson (senior editor at St. Martin’s), and Melissa Ann Singer (senior editor at Tor). When asked what they want from authors, like others, they emphasized that they want manuscripts that demonstrate an author’s unique voice. It was interesting comparing what each editor does depending on where they work and what they do – and what they like and dislike about their jobs.

Most of these editors hate filing and paperwork and meetings, but some love that sort of thing. Most spend a huge portion of time on noneditorial duties and spend less time on editing. Melissa Singer, for example, must spend 40% of her time on administration, so she has to read manuscripts on the subway or at home. Anna Genoese, on the other hand, spends much of her time on editing because she works from home. Also, Heather Osborn is spending about half of her time on editing because Anna Genoese is still doing some editing for Tor. Yet when Heather worked for Ellora’s Cave, almost all her time was spent on editing. For all the differences, all of them agreed that people often know nothing about what editors do. One warning Melissa Singer gave was that sometimes authors will listen to three people at a signing and then come back and say “These people said I should do such-and-such in my next book.” Her response (a direct quote) was “Noooo!” You shouldn’t listen to three people at a signing.

This brings up an interesting point. When should a writer listen to readers (or reviewers or whoever), and when should they not listen to them? You do see authors change what they write based on what their readers say, and it usually improves their stories, but there are times when it has a negative impact. One thing they and all other authors made clear is that a rejection letter is a rejection letter, and you must not send the manuscript back unless they ask to see it again. And if they do send a letter asking for revisions, then this is a very very good sign. So don’t respond with a 20-point rebuttal about the points in the revision letter, because they’re probably right. Sometimes authors refuse to make the recommended changes, and when this happens, the books generally tank, and the reviews often mention the same points that the editors tried to point out.

I learned so much during this conference that my brain is as tired as the rest of me. So I’m signing off.[/fusion_toggle][/fusion_accordion]

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